First Time Preparing to Travel to Alaska

We have spent the last couple of weeks preparing for our trip to Alaska and since there are numerous steps to our preparation, I thought I would share them here for those that are planning on going in the future.

  1.  Checked on insurance coverage on all vehicles. We did have coverage, but Allied was kind enough to remind us we needed a proof of insurance certificate that was Canada specific for driving there, and they emailed us copies for both the RV and truck within 5 minutes.  Excellent customer service.
  2. Checked on cellular coverage. First I called Verizon who has a $2 a day plan you can use that expands your existing coverage into Canada.  Unfortunately I have a very basic phone and it is not eligible for international talk or data (it does have unlimited texting for free.)  The customer service was excellent via their Web Chat feature and they even told me they have a loaner phone program I could use to get a phone for the trip.  I am opting to skip that but it was good to know it was an option.  My AT&T experience was the exact opposite.  First I called and could barely hear or understand the person I was talking to.  She also told me that she couldn’t access my account and to call back in 1/2 hour.  I tried the chat feature next and was told (after numerous questions) that their Silver Passport plan is $30 for one month, still charges for some texts, is $1 a minute for phone calls, and only offers 800mb of data.  No thanks.   So we will be going through Canada with my text feature only and whatever Wi-Fi we can get along the way.  I will have to blog offline and then post when we are in coverage. 
  3. Checked on Roadside AssistanceWe have Good Sam and we have coverage in both Canada and Alaska and the phone number to call in case of emergency is the same.  Very helpful customer service person. 
  4. Got a haircut and hair products.  I am fond of Supercuts, but they don’t have any locations in Alaska so I got a really short haircut prior to leaving.  I also bought my mousse and bought Lee’s shampoo which they only sell at Sally’s Beauty Supply.  I could have ordered and shipped the hair product at a later date, but took advantage of the better in-store prices and just took care of it. 
  5. Bought a Food Saver.   We have been wanting a food saver and a digital kitchen scale for a while and we bought one for both food and to shrink wrap tobacco.  We have no idea if we can get loose tobacco in Alaska at reasonable prices and since you cannot order it online, we went ahead and bought 2-1/2 months worth of bulk tobacco in South Carolina.  We needed to package it though, which is where the food saver came in.  Also, after seeing how Pat and Bridget used theirs we definitely decided it was worth it to reduce storage space and lengthen the time food stays good.  So far it is working great.
  6. Bought The Milepost book. Almost everyone who has traveled to Alaska swears by the Milepost book which gives you detailed information on what services are available at every mile of the trip.  Since we will be without data, this becomes especially important during our travel through Canada. 
  7. Put our route into Good Sam Trip Planner.  There are multiple ways to get through Canada to Alaska, but since we didn’t have time to meander we wanted the simplest and most direct route.  As a starting point we used Good Sam Trip Planner which knows that we tow and RV and the height, length, and weight of our vehicle.  We still have work to do here, but it’s a good starting point and at least we know the general route.
  8. Complete Vehicle Maintenance. Lee took the truck to get an oil change.  As a side note, they keep trying to charge us for fuel filters even though they are covered and he spent an extra hour there dealing with that. They wanted to charge us $200, not cool.  We also checked the dually tires at Bill’s suggestion and because they were 3/32 (should be 6/32) we had to get new tires.  Luckily I received an extra check for unused vacation days and that covered the cost, but it had to be done either way.  We used Costco, by the way and they did a great job.  Reasonably priced and good service. 
  9. Stocking up on food. Speaking of Costco, one of the things we are not sure about is how much food to stock up on.  I am sure there is a complex calculation of additional fuel cost for the weight versus higher prices in Alaska, but I am not going to get into all that. We did find there are two Costco’s in Anchorage which is about 120 miles from where we will be staying.  We are still pretty stocked up from being in Louisiana, so I think the only thing I am really going to make sure I buy before going is steak.  Lee likes ribeye and the prices fluctuate wildly as we travel so I have to believe they are going to be crazy high in Alaska. I can easily fit several steaks in our freezer if we use the Food Saver so that seems like the way to go. 
  10. Making Travel Day food. Cooking on long travel days is a pain, and we have discovered it is less tempting to eat out if we have something easy but good to cook on those days.  Since we are going to be faced with at least 9 long travel days in a row as we head north I am making spaghetti sauce and chili and freezing it and buying chicken patties and frozen hamburgers as well.  
  11. Completing some RV mods. Lee has a list of RV mods he has been wanting to get done, but always wanted to make sure we were close to a Home Depot when he started them, just in case.  Rock Hill is close to almost everything, so Lee took a couple of days to complete the repairs.  He removed the stair treads going from the kitchen into the bedroom in the back of the camper and hinged them, so now I have lots of storage underneath.  He also hard wired in the surge protector and voltage regulator, which was a big job, and involved him squeezing into a very small space.  He feels better that they are done prior to the trip and I am thrilled to have more space for my canned goods.

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So that’s our list so far, and we completed it in a week.  I am sure other stuff will arise along the way, but I know we both feel better to have this much done.  Obviously they have stores and goods in Canada and Alaska, but we both prefer to do as many chores as possible in advance of the trip.  

It does feel a little bit like we have gone back to newbie full timers with this trip.  We have become pretty good at navigating the lower 48 over the last year and a half, but Canada and Alaska are very different, so we are back to not taking anything for granted and proceeding with caution and care.  I am sure once we do the trip we will be surprised by how easy it all is, but better safe than sorry.  What’s nice is our friends Kelly and Bill are taking their first trip to Alaska this summer as well and although we are not going to be taking the same route we are sharing our experiences and ideas with each other as we go. 

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First Time in Reno

This is a long one, you might want to grab a cup of coffee!

Although I had tons of work this week, it’s my year end close, we still found some time to help out the young people from the American Conservation Experience who are working this week on cleaning up the trail.  I did have some reservations about 7 kids in their early 20’s staying that close to us, but after 9 days I can say I was pleasantly surprised.   They are up early, out working all day, and very quiet when they are around camp.  As a group they are all very friendly but also respectful of our space.  Lee got to spend the most time with them this week as he spent some time shooting footage of  them as they cleaned up the trail.  He’s producing a short video about the project for Stan to use and the kids were more than happy to be a part of it.  Also one night the battery on their truck died and Lee and I drove on the fire road down to where they were working and gave them a jump.  The Bizz Johnson Trail is really something.  It is 36 miles of rail trail converted into a bike path and some of the scenery is just beautiful.  Plus there are some really neat tunnels cut into the hills surrounding us, and we will definitely be going farther up the trail with our camera to take some pictures.

The way the kids schedule works is 9 days on and 5 days off, so Wednesday night was the end of the first 9 day stint.  Then they go back to the Lake Tahoe headquarters and rest and have fun, then come back for here for another 9 day stretch.  Since not everyone is necessarily coming back to this location, Lee decided he wanted to fix them dinner.  Since work was nuts, I was ok with that but said cooking and cleaning was up to him, which he readily agreed to.  He made hot dogs and brats and I made some strawberry pound cake for everyone with home made whipped cream.  As a side note I have never made whipped cream before but it is easy and yummy.  A pint of whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla and blend until stiff.  So good…I don’t know if I will ever buy the premade stuff again.  After dinner, Phil the team leader taught us to play a game called stump.  Phil is from Wisconsin and since our new son-in-law is also from there this game makes sense as a Wisconsin game.  You take a tree stump and lightly tap in a long nail for each person.  Then you take a hammer, flip it in your hand, and in one motion try to pound someone else’s nail.  As soon as the nail is completely flat against the stump that person is out.  It is much harder than it sounds and of course putting people out leads to all kinds of hilarity.  I played a round and it was fun but the mother in me rebelled against flipping hammers up in the air that way.  I can definitely see the attraction though for this group since they are often in very remote places for many days.  There are usually stumps and nails are cheap so I get it.  It was fun I have to say and I really enjoyed getting to know them all better.

Strawberry poundcake I made with real whipped cream

Strawberry poundcake I made with real whipped cream

Lee

From Left: Lee, Justin, George, Julius, Grace, Marc,  Phillip, and Gina

Stump

Stump

Since three of them are from other countries (Korea, Germany, and England)  they were very interested in full time RVing and I was equally interested in why they would join a program like this.  Essentially for them it is an opportunity to visit America, work on their English, and get some practical experience in a nature related field.  Overall I was very impressed by every one of them, and even more so when the next morning, after they left, we found a bottle of wine and a card on our picnic table.  If anyone thinks the Millennials are a lost cause as a generation, you might feel differently after you read what the card said:

Lee and Tracy,

“To say that you two were the best camp hosts that we have had would be a massive understatement.  You took the time to get to know each of us on a personal level and brought us motivational treats. You also did countless favors for us over the past nine days, saving our bacon in several instances, and for that we are forever grateful.  It has been an honor and a privilege to have shared this tiny campground that we all pretty much consider our second home.  Both of you are amazing people and you have created a long lasting positive memory in all of us that we will not soon forget.  We would also like to formally welcome you to your new lifestyle and may you never stop exploring and trying new things.”

 The A.C.E Crew

This chokes me up again just typing it.  We didn’t even do that much.  We were just friendly, made them a couple of desserts and a meal, and got to know them.  Anyway, if you ever have a chance to work with these youth organizations,  I really recommend getting to know the kids.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised as I was.

We also got a care package from Lee’s parents which really made it an awesome day.  I love that they collect little things they think we would like and they actually got our address here and paid the $6 to ship them.  This package had collapsible bowls, cocktail napkins for our parties with friends, and some great camping T-Shirts.  Each item was thoughtful, relevant to what we are doing, and in almost every case does two things!!  So nice of them and it meant the world to us!Y018After the kids left things were pretty quiet and we actually got some rain.  One of the interesting things about this part of the country is how many completely cloudless days there are.  On the occasion when it does rain however it rains hard and we pretty much stayed inside.  We both started to get a little antsy about our hair though.  We hadn’t had haircuts since July before the wedding and really were getting shaggy.  Unfortunately Susanville doesn’t offer a hair cutting place that I would even consider so off we went to Reno on Friday afternoon to go to a Super Cuts. I know I’ve said it before but Super Cuts is awesome.  They are extremely clean and consistent across the country plus for $16 you get a nice haircut.  They also carry my hair product and offer an eyebrow wax for $10.  Really can’t beat it.  They have recently added a “call ahead” feature and you can make an appointment the same day which they do a VERY good job of honoring.  So we were in and out of there before 5pm and realized we should probably take advantage of our time in Reno.

Lee and I like to gamble, strictly for fun, on occasion, so I was very interested in checking out the casinos in Reno and seeing if we could actually have any fun gambling on such a limited budget.  Lee used to go to Vegas for the week long National Association of Broadcasters conference every year and budgeted $100 per day for Black Jack.  He usually broke even, that’s just the way blackjack works, but he went into it planning to lose the $500 for entertainment. Obviously that wasn’t going to work in this lifestyle where our monthly entertainment budget is $159 so we needed to talk it through.  We went to Circus Circus because the web said they had $2 blackjack tables and we had dinner at a little diner there.  The meals were excellent but man, am I ever tired of spending $3 for soda or iced tea. Consequently dinner was $37, but later I had an idea that I am going to start taking those little drink powder packets in my purse so we can have lemonade for dinner.  The $10.99 for the meals was more than fair but the markup on an iced tea makes me crazy.  As we ate we talked through what gambling would look like for us in this new world.  This was progress by the way as instead of spending now and talking later we are really starting to have these conversations proactively.  We determined that for the test I would take $20 (my standard amount for nickel slots) and Lee would take $100 for blackjack and we would see what happened.  Lee had the harder decision to make by far and I won’t talk about about all the details, but if you are going to gamble you need a certain amount of money to start with.  It ended up turning out great as he found a set  of interconnected tables with an electronic dealer for $2 a game and ended up spending only $22 for about two hours of play. I spent $8 out of my $20.  We also spent a few dollars upstairs on the huge arcade area Circus Circus has.   We probably could have recouped that money if we were willing to stay longer, but we needed to close the gate back at the ranch, so we headed back.  We did drive through the downtown area heading home though and I definitely want to go back and try out some of the other  casinos.  Overall the experience was great and better than anything we have seen short of Vegas including Atlantic City.  We were offered free drinks several times, the slots were varied, and the kind I like, and it really had a small Vegas vibe unlike Indian Casinos we have been in.  Plus, I have to say, I really like Reno as a town.  I was expecting the worst, but they have really cleaned it up in the 20 years since Lee has been there and it’s a very nice little town.

Casino downstairs and arcade upstairs

Casino downstairs and arcade upstairs

Lee playing Whack a Mole

Lee playing Whack a Mole…won a snake.  He likes the games where you whack stuff 🙂

I completely rock the fishing game...won twice

I completely rocked the fishing game…won twice.

Lee tried Chicken in the pot for the first time and won we a bear :)

Lee tried Chicken in the Pot for the first time and won me a bear 🙂

What girl doesn't like an armful of stuffed animals at an arcade

What girl doesn’t like an armful of stuffed animals at an arcade

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Saturday it rained some more, so I just took some chill time, and Lee worked on Howard and Linda’s videos.  In case you are wondering, I am doing OK with the decision to leave my job, but I am having some rough moments.  I had a really great review and conversation with my current boss which made me feel good about things, and I’ve talked to Cori several times.  She has been absolutely wonderful because she went through a similar experience several months ago and not only does she get it, but she has been very understanding of how moody I have been over the whole thing.  I am going along feeling great and then wham I get sad or a little depressed and Cori has been right there telling me it’s normal and will pass.  She also sent me the picture below and it really struck home with me… so I thought I would pass it along.

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Sunday was a little cloudy but no rain which was great because we had plans with Jo and Ben.  Jo and Ben started their new jobs the last couple of weeks and we were dealing with my job issues, so no opportunity until now to see each other.  I found a Celtic festival in Reno on Groupon though and we made plans to meet there on Saturday.  This was the first time I had used Groupon (recommended by both Katy and Cori, two of the most bargain conscious chicks I know) and it worked great.  They have a mobile app you can use and we got on online ticket which we just held up and shpwed upon entrance.  We did have to pay a $5 parking fee though which brought the cost up to $10 per person.  Unfortunately this was not my best pick.  The event was super small and none of us felt the fee was worth the $10.  Jo and Ben were so nice about it though and when we were done after 1-1/2 hours Ben came up with a Plan B.    My favorite thing we saw was a demonstration on how to put on a kilt.  Both Jo and I were fascinated as we had read about it, but never actually seen it done.  I have included a step by step set of pictures below on that for those of you who have an interest.  I found it fascinating and now feel like I could maybe buy and wear a kilt.  By the way, women and men wore kilts at the same length until the 1500’s when the catholic church pushed for the women to wear them long for modesty.

Beautiful Draft horses at the Celtic Fair

Beautiful Draft horses at the Celtic Fair

Stage with some ok musicians playing, we listened to some Irish folk tunes for awhile

Stage with some ok musicians playing, we listened to some Irish folk tunes for awhile

Falconer had several birds

Falconer had several birds

Amazing how far they can turn their head

Amazing how far they can turn their head

Really neat getting so close to them

Really neat getting so close to them

Unfortunately the falconer was less interested in talking than charging $10 per picture holding the birds, so we passed

Unfortunately the falconer was less interested in talking than charging $10 per picture holding the birds… we passed

These weavers were really nice. and we talked to them for some time. Turns out Ben worked in a wool mill in New Hampshire when he was in his 20's

These weavers were really nice. and we talked to them for some time. Turns out Ben worked in a wool mill in New Hampshire when he was in his 20’s

Make the pleats on the ground by folding over cloth

Make the pleats on the ground by folding over cloth

Pleats should be one third of cloth and equally in the middle

Pleats should be one third of cloth and equally in the middle

Lay down on cloth and roll over you like a burrito

Lay down on cloth and roll over you like a burrito

Adjust length to below the knee in winter and above the knee in the summer and place a belt around your waist

Adjust length to below the knee in winter and above the knee in the summer and place a belt around your waist

Pin the outside edge to stop the wind from blowing it open ... never knew what those pins were for

Pin the outside edge to stop the wind from blowing it open … never knew what those pins were for

Roll excess cloth at waist over belt

Roll excess cloth at waist over belt

Pull extra on one side up (easier with two people)

Pull extra on one side up (easier with two people)

Pull second side up

Pull second side up

Tie with some cord as seen here

Tie with some cord as seen here

She placed a second belt on and you can see how cool the pleats are in the back

She placed a second belt on and you can see how cool the pleats are in the back

So there was some cool things but no way worth $10 and thankfully Ben had this idea to head to Virginia City, which is a an historic mining town about 30 minutes outside of Reno.  A huge silver strike was found there, most people know it as the Comstock Lode, and tons of saloons were built.  What is cool about this town is many of the original buildings are still in place and I loved the wooden boardwalk which follows the natural lines of the ground and made me feel like I was really in the old west.  Plus in one of those awesome moments of serendipity we realized we were there during the world championship outhouse races.  Oh yes, I am not making that up, and it was completely a happy accident.  Can’t really describe what we saw in words, so let me just show you the pics.

Really cool old buildings

Really cool old buildings

Check out the metal drain spouts

Check out the metal drain spouts

Now I know what gold looks like in the wild

Now I know what gold looks like in the wild

Just in case :)

This one was cool

Lee wasn't kidding when he said people wore guns out west

Lee wasn’t kidding when he said people wore guns out west

Tons of little shops crammed full of antigues

Tons of little shops crammed full of antiques

Sign shop had tons of signs

Sign shop had tons of signs

For our friend Emils

For our friend Emily

The chandeliers in the old saloons were amazing

The chandeliers in the old saloons were amazing

Really good country western band playing in one

Really good country western band playing in one

And the outhouse races

And the outhouse races

You can't make this stuff up

You can’t make this stuff up

They were having fun

They were having fun

This guy did the starting guns hots..seriously old west

This guy did the starting line gunshots..seriously old west

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Ben and Jo

Ben and Jo

When I sat in here, it started making pooping noises. Cracked me and Ben up

When I sat in here, it started making pooping noises. Cracked me and Ben up

Old fire engine museum was very neat and free

Old fire engine museum was very neat and free

A guy who has been in tons of fire museums said he had never seen these before and they were

A guy who has been in tons of fire museums said he had never seen these before and they were “priceless”

 

After spending several hours in Virginia City, we headed down to Jo and Ben’s place.  They are staying at Sparks Marina RV Park  right in Reno.  Normally not a huge fan of these types of parks but they have done a nice job with this one.  Every space has it’s own spot of AstroTurf.  There are three nice dog parks, a clubhouse, pool and Jacuzzi.  Plus across the street is a lake and marina with beach volleyball courts and nice picnic areas.  Sometimes when you are working, convenience makes more sense than anything else, and it does feel isolated despite only being 10 minutes away from Ben’s work at the hospital.  They also have immaculate restrooms,  cable and really great free Wifi and with a monthly off season price of $575 a month is a nice deal.

Campground

Campground

Nicest of the three dog parks

Nicest of the three dog parks

 

Really great clubhouse

Really great clubhouse

Got lots of puppy love from Peyton !!

Got lots of puppy love from Peyton !!

Campground Reviews

Sparks Marina RV Park   1200 E. Lincoln Way Sparks, NV 89434  4 out of 5 pine cones

The spaces are close together but each has it’s own spot of AstroTurf.  There are three nice dog parks, a clubhouse, pool and Jacuzzi.  Plus across the street is a lake and marina with beach volleyball courts and nice picnic areas. Despite being right in town  it does feel isolated and you have a nice view of the surronding hills.   They also have immaculate restrooms,  cable and really great free Wifi and with a monthly off season price of $575 a month is a nice deal.

Recipes

Spicy Drumsticks with Blue Cheese

  • 4 drumsticks
  • 3 TBL vegetable Oil
  • 3 TBL white vinegar
  • 4 tsp red pepper sauce (add more is you like spicy)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  1. Mix oil, vinegar, pepper sauce, and salt in ziploc plastic bag
  2. Add drumsticks and toss until well coated
  3. Refrigerate at least 1 hour occasionally turning bag
  4. Cook Chicken on grill for 30 minutes saving sauce in bag
  5. Baste chicken with remaining sauce in bag and then cook an additional 10-15 minutes
  6. Serve with Blue Cheese dressing for dipping on the side
Spicy Drumsticks

Spicy Drumsticks

Fresh Strawberry Coffee Cake

Cake Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 2 TBL melted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups strawberries , sliced

Topping

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Grease an 8 x8 x2 pan
  3. Combine all cake ingredients except for strawberries, mix until well blended
  4. Spread batter evenly in pan and sprinkle berries evenly over batter
  5. Combine flour and sugar for topping then add softened butter.  Blend by hand until mix is crumbly
  6. Add nuts to topping and blend
  7. Sprinkler the topping over strawberries
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes
  9. Serve Warm

Homemade Whipped Cream

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1.  Beat ingredients until stiff in large bowl
  2. Refrigerate until used

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First Work Trip from the “Middle of Nowhere”

Generally I don’t blog about my work trips, but because this one was a bit unique, and many people are trying to figure out how to work from the road, I thought I would share this one.  Up to this point we have been within an hour and a half of an airport, not including smaller regional airports. Plus, I had the company car so if I needed to travel for work, I would drive to the airport, leave the car in parking, and pick it back up when I returned. We knew when we turned in the car this would get more complicated, but I spoke to my boss and since he was open to me renting a car in those situations it seemed like it would work out OK.

So, when the work trip came up while we were in the remote location of Lake Kabetogama I thought it would work out. I always judge how remote we are by the distance to the nearest McDonald’s because sadly, in my mind, that is a sign of “civilization.”  In this case we are 30 minutes from the nearest McDonald’s and 2-1/2 hours from the closest large airport in Duluth, MN.  There is a small airport 30 minutes away in International Falls, but only Delta flies into there and the minimally offered flights run around $1100.  Yikes!  Since Lee didn’t want to drive the 5 hours round trip to the airport, twice, I decided to rent a car one way to get there, and do it again to get back. The first problem was finding one.  The only agency anywhere close was Avis and they were at the International Falls airport.  Still, a 1-hour round trip is better than 5 hours round trip and I booked it. My company books all travel through AmEx though and Avis is not on the approved list so I had to make the arrangements myself.  A one-way rental is pricey ($131 plus gas each way), but there really weren’t any other choices.  I picked the car up Sunday and then drove the 2-1/2 hours Monday morning.  The drive was very pleasant, two lane highway with minimal traffic and I found a delightful local talk radio station to listen to along the way.  The whole program sounded like an over the fence backyard conversation and I enjoyed it immensely as local radio is a great way to get to know the people in a place.

When I reached the airport I was surprised by how small it was.  It only had four gates, and was shared by two airlines; United and Delta.  Unfortunately, it only had one little snack bar/restaurant in it though, and they were packed.  One of the planes got pulled for mechanical issues and one of the downsides to flying out of a small airport became apparent.  There are no other planes to catch if something happens to yours.  So it’s wait until the next one comes in or come back the next day.  Luckily mine was OK and I made it to O’Hare with minimal issues. Normally I carry on my luggage but I was headed to Louisville (Howard and Linda’s hometown) and she had jokingly talked about these nuts she loved that were only in a store in Louisville.  Since I was going to be 15 minutes from GFS  (a restaurant supplier that regular people can also shop at) I was happy to go.  Well, I was glad I did because the store was very cool, and if I would have left it at the nuts I would have been fine, but they had some other stuff I couldn’t pass up including a 10# bag of restaurant rice for $4.99 that I just had to have.  That damn bag of rice led to a serious of unfortunate events as they say, but here I am jumping ahead again, so let me walk through the week.  

Linda's special mixed nuts

Linda’s special mixed nuts

Would have loved to take advantage of this deal not that I have the freezer space for it

Would have loved to take advantage of this deal not that I have the freezer space for it

This is what I bought for me and Lee

This is what I bought for Lee and I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was in Louisville to attend a 2-1/2 day meeting but I had two full travel days on either end. Unless you’re going to a hub city like Atlanta or Charlotte,  flying out of small airports practically guarantees a full day of travel.  But that’s OK, I generally don’t mind and if you take an early flight you have some time the first evening to see the city or whatever.  When I was on my way it occurred to me that I should take advantage of civilization and try to get some errands done.  First, they have Super Cuts  which is my haircut place of choice when I can find them, and I decided to get my hair cut and the highlights in my hair redone.  I carry a color card from my Super Cuts back in Keene so it’s easy to use them when I want the stripe in the front of my hair done.  I made the appointment online Tuesday and after the meeting headed over.  Unfortunately the entire ATT network was down for data for several hours that day.  Not sure if you heard about that but it was down for several hours in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.  So I had to go old school and use Map Quest and print out directions.  Our company doesn’t get GPS in the rental cars so I am used to using my phone, but no phone and wow gotta say are we all in trouble if these data systems ever go down for long periods of time.  I followed the directions and about two minutes from the destination got stuck waiting for a train at a crossing. Not any old train, but the longest one I have ever seen, and it was stopped on the tracks for a while.  I couldn’t go around because I had no idea where I was or how to get there so I sat in that line for 30 minutes (not an exaggeration ) until the train finally moved off the tracks. Once I moved over the tracks I could not find Super Cuts anywhere.  Finally I stopped in an auto parts store (I am not too proud to ask for directions) and saw that I had put in Old LaGrange Rd instead of LaGrange Rd and the Super Cuts was across the street and I would not have had to wait. ARRRGGGGG.  No way! Thankfully I had used their online check in system (which I am a big fan of) and even though I was a half hour late they brought me right to the front of the line.  On the way back, same problem, the freeway was closed down to one lane and again could not reroute myself.  I ended up getting back to the hotel at 8pm but on the plus side a major check mark against the task list. 

I also made an appointment at Aspen Dental.  As I have talked about before, getting dental care on the road has been a major issue for us, and while in Florida I tried out Aspen Dental since they have a network of over 400 locations and I don’t have to go through the new patient rigmarole every time since they can look my records up on their system.  On the plus side, at Aspen Dental the care itself is fine and no new patient nonsense, on the downside they do the full court press on services and you really have to be able to say no to go into one of them.  Not everyone can say no to a medical professional, but having grown up with medical people I certainly can.  So when I walked into their office Thursday evening for my appointment and was told, “We need $40 for a fluoride treatment today,” my response was “Excuse me?”   She repeated the statement a little less certain and I said, “I just want a cleaning.”  To her credit she let the issue drop.  Let me be perfectly clear, if I needed work done I probably would not do it here, but they are fine for cleanings, just don’t be fooled into out-of-pocket up charges that are unnecessary.  It’s turned into a decent option for me on the road though, but I still won’t send Lee there because he is one of those people who says yes to everything medical people say.  I would rather in his case keep finding local dentists to send him to, but that’s stressful as well.  Thankfully it’s only something that needs to be done every 6 months.

After the dentist appointment I stopped at GFS to get the nuts and really got excited about the other things they had.  Suddenly I am thinking “How much can I fit in my bag?” and chose a 10# bag of rice (Lee loves rice), a big bag of powdered cheese, gravy, and fruit punch mix.  I know, odd combination, but those were items we use commonly, and the prices were great.  When I got back to the hotel room it took some careful packing but I got everything into the bag.  It did feel heavier than usual, but I didn’t think too much of it.  The next morning I was up at 4am and headed to the airport.  I turned in the rental car and then checked in with my bag.  When they weighed it, it was 13 pounds overweight…YIKES.  So I moved to the side and started rearranging.  Well, the rice and powders I bought were roughly 13#, so there you go.  I could have thrown the rice away…thought of it,  but I got stubborn..  and so the saga begins.  OK, saga is a bit of an exaggeration but it definitely had a cascading effect.  First, I ended up putting my work laptop in the checked bag, which I never do, because I didn’t want to carry all that through O’Hare.  Second, when I went through security (not once but twice) the rice threw off all kinds of warning flags and I got pulled out of line for a second scan.  When in O’Hare (my fault went outside to smoke) they actually did a full body pat down because it scored a warning.  To be clear I don’t mind the security (I flew two weeks after 9/11 and never want to go through that again) and the TSA was extremely polite and professional.  Still, I kept thinking “Is this damn bag of rice worth all of this?”.

I got on the plane to fly to Duluth and we made it all the way down the runway when we were forced to turn back for a mechanical issue.  Thankfully they let us deplane (opportunity to go the bathroom, get a snack etc) and then finally decided to bring a new plane up.  Again there are a limited number of flights so I was thinking I might be stuck overnight and the two-hour delay to change planes was better than the alternative.  Actually, when we landed the airport was clouded in until 100 yards above the ground and the pilot said if we would have been on the original flight plan we might have had to reroute.  So these things happen for a reason and as a seasoned traveler in general I try to be philosophical about them, but my forbearance was about to be tested in a big way.

Small airports have the huge advantage of being easy to pick up your luggage, so I was surprised when halfway through the luggage process the baggage carousel  stopped working.  It took at least 15 minutes for them to fix it, so I used the time to get my rental car back, and then I watched as person after person got their bag.  Well guess whose bag didn’t come off??  Mine. And when I asked who to talk to this is when small airports are a major disadvantage. I stood in line for the one person at the counter and he said he couldn’t help me because he was a Delta employee not a United employee.  He asked that I move aside and wait and I stood there for another 15 minutes watching him help other people.  During this time a young woman in her 30’s came up and asked if she could book a flight to International Falls.  Turns out Stephanie had booked a one way car from Alamo online but when she came to this airport they had no such reservation.  Probably because they have no Alamo in International Falls.  Avis wouldn’t help her because they said they had no cars and she talked to the cab driver who said it would cost $350 to take her there.  She was bearing up well, but I recognized the look on her face because I was feeling the same way and I said, “I’m going to International Falls, why don’t you ride with me.”  I meant it.  The day was turning to complete crap, the airline was totally not helpful, so why not be people and just do the right thing.  Plus it cost me nothing to have her come along and she looked like a normal person in trouble.  She got an off look on her face though, don’t blame her it was a weird offer, and she went to talk to her boyfriend.  Simultaneously I asked the young man at the counter if he was going to call someone or not, and he got on the walkie to get someone to come down and talk to me.  So Stephanie comes back and asks very tentatively if she could send a picture of my driver’s license to her boyfriend (sure why not) and I am going through the painful process of having another kids take my baggage information which instilled absolutely zero confidence in me.  Yes they would deliver the luggage 2-1/2 hours away but no he had no idea where it was.

Stephanie by this time (along with her boyfriend who was on the phone and rightfully concerned) had decided I was the best of their bad options so we walked across and got the rental car.  Turns out Stephanie was a very nice person, mother of a 14-year-old and this was the first time she had ever flown alone.  I appreciated the company because by this time I was very tired and having someone to talk to really helped me to focus on driving and not get super upset about the bag.  We finally made it to the very small airport in International Falls and Mark her boyfriend tried to give me some money.  I said, “Absolutely not” and told Stephanie that in some time in her life she would have a chance to pay it forward with someone else and to please just do that. Actually the whole experience really salvaged the day for me and I am grateful to her in a way for letting me do something nice for her. I gave her my card with blog info so Steph if you’re reading this it was a true pleasure meeting you and good luck getting through those teen years with your daughter lol.  She sounds like a great kid though so hopefully you will have an easy time of it.

So it’s Saturday morning and they still haven’t found my bag but I am feeling better just writing this all down.  Is travel from a small airport easy.  No.  Can it cause issues that wouldn’t happen necessarily in a larger airport, absolutely.  Was the experience enough for us to restrict our travel to always be close to an airport…nope, but it was not a fun 14 hour travel day and I can absolutely see having similar issues in the future (the rice aside I am NEVER doing that again).  It’s a price that, in my case, must be paid for the lifestyle and I am willing to pay it for the great views and isolated settings.

Update:  I made a mistake on the July budget missing the $400 payment for our RV.  This takes us to $3800 for the month which is still our lowest month but not the significant difference I thought it was.  Very sorry for the mistake and I have updated that page for future reference.  Thanks so much to Bill for pointing the mistake out to me.  It was caused by rushing to get the post done prior to the work trip, but I will absolutely be more careful int the future. 

Luggage Update:  After 24 hours of watching the website and feeling like nothing was happening I sat on hold with the Indian call center until I got an actual person on the phone.  I was polite but firm and finally the agent got Gail from O’Hare on the phone with me and she had actually opened my bag very recently trying to find a black bag for another person.  Thank heavens!!  She was wonderful and promised to put it on the noon flight to Duluth.  So thanks Gail…I owe you!!

Lessons Learned

  • When printing out directions from the web make sure you have the correct address
  • Never ever check your laptop (or anything else you can’t lose) in your luggage
  • Count on long travel days from small airports
  • Count on fewer services in small airports
  • One way rental cars are expensive; think about the cost in both dollars and time when you make that decision
  • If you can help someone…do it.  It really is a great feeling.

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First Hair Dye on the Road and other Girlie Stuff

I am not what you would consider a “girly girl”.  I rarely wear makeup, haven’t been in a dress since my daughter’s wedding, and in general believe less is more when making decisions about my personal appearance.  (And just look how smoking hot she is. Makeup ruins faces. That’s why I get to be married to a woman who is hurtling toward 50 like an out of control freight train, and when I look at her, I see a 16-year-old girl. Wear less crap on your face, that’s my advice to all you chicks out there. Not for me, I’m not in the market. But for whoever you’re trying to snag. Or keep. Or trade up to. – Lee) That being said, as I climbed up the corporate ladder, I started to pay more attention to these things because your appearance does change the way people look at you.  Eventually I came up with a “look”; short hair, Brooks Brothers shirts, nice slacks (mostly purchased at second-hand stores), and some killer shoes that are the female version of the male dress shoe.  (Don’t be fooled. All this project manager, masters degree, Six Sigma crap is an excuse so she can have a “look”. And the look is an excuse to have shoes. Oh my dear Lord in heaven, the shoes. They’re everywhere. There are shoes in the closet. Shoes under the bed. Shoes AROUND the bed. Shoes in drawers. Shoes under the couch. Shoes right. in. the. middle. of. the. damn. floor. There are shoes INSIDE of other shoes. And all of them are slightly different shades of dark blue. I swear. And guess what sentence I hear more than any other? Wait for it….”Have you seen my shoes?”. Yeah. The struggle is real. – Lee) The look took years (and countless pairs of shoes) to develop so I was a bit concerned when we started to explore this lifestyle on how that would change.  There is a limited amount of space for clothing in an RV so you need to be very careful about what you bring.  It’s true that I tend to wear the same things over and over..and when working in the rig I am a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl.  I also brought a condensed version of my professional wardrobe, which I use for travel and trips to the local offices.  (She only just barely condensed the shoes. She really does have a lot of shoes for someone who drives and flies everywhere. – Lee) It’s worked out well so far and largely how I dressed before this life is the same as how I dress now…just more shorts and t-shirts.  Other “look” items have been a bit more challenging though.

Makeup is another item that has been a non-issue for me.  I’m lucky that Lee vocally prefers me in no makeup and I only wear it on special occasions.  I brought a few pieces with me..not even sure where they are, because I haven’t touched makeup once since we’ve been on the road.  (I’ve thrown all of it away, to make room for shoes. – Lee) I am using a light tan as my base, a gleam in my eye as my mascara, and excitement as my blush.  Ok, that’s kind of silly, but truly I think I look great because of those things and no makeup has been applied.  My friends who do wear makeup, still wear it on occasion and please feel free to chime in on how that’s working in the comments section because for me it’s been largely a non-issue but I know that’s not the norm.

Nails, however, were a major change.  I have had my nails done for over 12 years..clear gel with white tips, because my nails are very weak and I used to nibble on them.  It cost me $42 a month to maintain them, but I always considered it a business expense so it didn’t really matter.  Fast forward and we are doing our budget and I decide I needed to find another solution.  Luckily my friend Dr. Jo found this amazing product at Walmart (Nail-Aid), and I tried it and it actually worked!!  It’s $8.99, but lasts a really long time and seriously my nails used to bend and tear they were so weak and now that’s gone.  For color I use Sally Hanson Diamond Strength Champagne Blush…which gives me an opaque pinkish tint which lets the whiteness of the tips show through…not as good as a french tip but very good for doing it myself…and finally a Clear coat of Diamond Strength Flawless.  so I’ve saved my $42 a month with a $15 investment that will last several months and I like the way my nails look.  I redo them once a week and feel pretty great about it. (It stinks the place up, but it makes her happy, so I don’t complain much. – Lee)

Nail – Aid almost GEL Harder Nails

Pedicures on the other hand, well, that’s a different story.  Pedicures were not a business expense but a treat and I did them a few times a year in the summer time.  Fast forward and  my feet are bare more than they have ever been but I don’t have pedicures in the budget and I simply cannot duplicate what the professionals do…not even close.  I somewhat jokingly asked Lee if he was willing to give it a shot, but the answer was an unequivocal no…so I miss them and hope to figure our a way to either get them inexpensively or find a good substitute.  Maybe I should check out Groupon.

And so we finally come to hair, which for me has by far been the most stressful.  As I’ve mentioned before I had the same hair dresser for 13 years and I really dreaded leaving her. The first haircut went much better than I expected, but now it’s past time for the first dye.  I was really struggling though with whether I should dye it our not.   First there is the cost ($80 at Super Cuts including tip) and the fact it really needs to be done every two months. I could go back to dying my own hair (did it for years) but I love the blonde streak in the front and that is beyond my capability to do.   Then there’s Lee’s reaction.   The grey has been coming into my hair pretty steadily and Lee really likes it.  I mean really likes it…every time I go to get the hair cut he says “don’t dye it”…he touches it a lot and says how much he likes it.  (It has a really great texture. Seriously, next time you see her, touch it. I mean, don’t be weird or creepy, just point behind her and ask what kind of bird that is, and when she turns around, touch her hair. But just for a second, because, hey, that’s my wife you’re groping. I have a sense of humor and everything, but don’t get all grabby. In fact, forget the whole thing, just take my word for it. It feels great. – Lee) I can’t remember him ever caring what color my hair was before but he really likes the grey.  But the grey says something in our culture and it can have a business implication.   Lee can go completely grey and he looks distinguished, a woman goes grey and she looks “old”.  At least that is what we are conditioned to believe.  So I was struggling, but needed to do something because I had a work trip scheduled and my hair was a shaggy mess.  I called my friend Cori and she neatly summarized it.  Yes, people could judge me, but did I really care what those people thought.  Dammit!!  I hate when she does that.  So getting my hair dyed turned into a conversation with myself about who I am versus who I want to be.  I was still on the fence though so I called the person who has been giving me hair advice my entire life…my mom.  She said that she’s letting her own grey grow in because that’s in fashion now.  Things got interesting!  You mean I can be true to my new self and still be in fashion?…SOLD!!  So I kept the streak and the rest I am letting go.  It only cost $38 for a cut, eyebrow wax, and the one strip died…a bargain!!  I did give Jim a $20 tip because he did a fantastic job but still $60 was cheaper than $80 and I normally won’t tip that much I think I was just on a high from the whole being my new self thing. (And with all the money she saved, she can put a down payment on a shoe! – Lee)

OK, so, we’ve talked about makeup and clothes, nails and hair….what’s left?….well shoes and purses of course. I seriously streamlined how many shoes I have, although it is definitely 3X as many as I need…(the first step is admitting you have a problem…) but baby steps right? I gave all my Coach  purses to the girls and bought a new one for myself that was more low-key when we went on the road.  I have found it’s actually okay to have one brown purse and wear it with everything.  Crazy right?  I would like to talk a bit about designer things though.  When I was 14 years old I was pretty thin and nothing fit me very well.  The first time I put on a pair of Calvin Klein jeans they actually fit me like a glove and I learned how well fit clothes could make a difference.  Yes they were $44 in 1980, but I was lucky that my mom wanted to give them to me because of all the years she couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money on me.  I never was a person who cared about a label for the labels sake,  but I learned from Lee of all people who sometimes a well cared for quality product can actually save you money.  For example when we were young I spent $25 on a new KMart purse 3 times a year (they fell apart on me so I always needed a new one.  Then Lee talked me into buying my first Coach purse on sale for $90 which lasted a full two years actually saving me $60 over a two-year period plus I had a purse I really loved.  So, before you immediately dismiss quality think is it something that will outlast its cheaper competitors and take that into consideration.  BUT, and it’s a big but, sometimes paying for the label is just stupid.  Recently I broke a $20 pair of sunglasses I absolutely loved and have been trying to find a replacement ever sense.  Lee said find a quality pair of glasses and take care of them. His last pair of Ray Bans that lasted 12 years which roughly worked out to $12 a year, cheaper than buying 2-3 pairs of $20 sunglasses a year.  (And guess what I replaced them with? The same damn Ray Bans, I won’t wear anything else, because I use them to protect my eyes, which I use to look at my wife. I am really not as complicated as people think I am. – Lee) His rationale is if it’s more expensive you’ll take better care of them, which is true but when I was in the airport today looking at $225 Versace sunglasses I thought; no freaking way.  (Damn right. You gotta work your way up. You can’t just go leaping willy nilly from gas station shades to Versace. – Lee) So I went down to the Bijoux knock off store all the airports have (where everything cost $10) and found a really nice pair.  They even gave me a little cloth bag to put them in.  So yes, quality matters and yes sometimes it is even cost-effective, but sometimes it’s just dumb. The trick is knowing the difference!

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First Time in Clearwater

I have been to Florida many times in my life including several summers spent on Singer Island, but I have never lived in Florida before.  I have to say, I finally get why people are snowbirds.  The weather is absolutely wonderful.  It’s been in the low 80’s almost every day and although it does rain frequently, it is usually those quick showers that are over in no time.  It’s also very breezy and I am enjoying very much the sun on my face especially when I see that New Hampshire is experiencing ice storms and weather in the teens.  I know, I am sorry, I certainly don’t mean to rub it in, but part of me is wondering why I didn’t do this a long time ago.  Yes, I am sure I would find the summers miserable, but I won’t be here in the summer, and for right now this weather is absolutely amazing. (I have no such qualms. New England weather sucks in the winter, even people who have lived there their entire lives think so. – Lee)

It’s been a busy week…as you know my grandmother passed away, and I spent Monday, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday with my mother, grandfather, and aunts and uncle in North Palm.  I’d like to talk about what I did on the other days though.  When we pulled into the site, we were a little taken aback that our site number had been changed at the last minute.  I made these reservations months ago, but I have to say I am glad our site changed.  We are staying for 10 weeks (while Lee goes to RV Tech school) at the Rainbow Village Largo 55+ RV community. Yes, I know we are not 55+, but they are allowed a certain amount of guests who are under that age and we got an exemption which cracks me up.  (Trace is so close to 55 as to make no difference, but we’re calling it an “exception.” I’m considerably younger, but since we’re married they had to let me in as well. – Lee) We had pretty low expectations coming in.  Just a reasonable place to stay close to the school, but I really like it.  Our new site was pretty tough to get into, but once there, we are in a nice spot.  So far no one is in the site we face so it’s like being on a double lot.  We are also surrounded by a group of French Canadians and it’s nice hearing them speak in French all the time.  Adds to the atmosphere.  (In addition, there’s something really nice about not being able to understand conversations that you can’t help but overhear. It just turns into background noise. At our previous seasonal site in Swanzey, people were so loud, it was almost impossible not to just start participating. Sometimes I did, quietly enough so they couldn’t hear me, which is a shame, in retrospect. I often had compelling things to add. Also, everyone here thinks I’m Canadian, and they keep speaking to me in French. I keep apologizing for not being Canadian, but that seems to just reinforce their idea that I’m Canadian. It’s a vicious circle, with no end in sight. C’est une honte. – Lee)

So far people are friendly but have largely left us alone which is nice and if we do want to get to know folks there are plenty of opportunities with a daily calendar that has 3-5 free activities a day.  It’s clean, neat, and I feel completely safe as we are gated in and surrounded by our own security force of older people who are paying attention to what’s going on!!  Plus 65% of the structures are permanent so it feels like a little community more than a trailer park which was a concern of mine.

Right outside our camper in Rainbow Village, Largo Fl

Right outside our camper in Rainbow Village, Largo Fl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though we aren’t on the water or really near anything cool there are many things to see and do within a half hour drive.  The beach is 15-20 minutes away (depending on traffic) and Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Tarpon Springs are all within easy driving distance.  It’s quite a bit cooler here than even two hours south, and since we are still getting acclimated to the weather appreciate that.  Lee really wanted to see the sun set on the ocean since he hadn’t had the opportunity since the mid-90’s, so on New Years Day we went to Clearwater Beach which is considered one of the best beaches in the US.  The beach is beautiful with tons of white sand, but it was a bit crowded for my taste and after checking out Pier 60 (which has vendors and restaurants) we moved down to Sand Key Park which I liked much better.  It was $5 for an all day parking pass at Sand Key (versus $3 an hour at the Hilton on the Clearwater beach) and much less crowded.  We stayed for quite awhile looking for shells, watching birds, and eventually seeing the sunset and it was a very nice experience.

PIer 60 in Clearwater

PIer 60 in Clearwater

Clearwater beach

Clearwater beach

Sand Key State Park

Sand Key State Park (Totally different ocean than Pier 60. It’s not even on the same side. This one is on the right, and the other one is on the left, as the pictures show. – Lee)

Message I wrote to Lee on the beach

Message I wrote to Lee on the beach (Never trust anyone who writes an I.O.U. in something as temporary as sand.- Lee)

 

Thursday and Friday we spent the time getting acclimated to the area.  I was nervous about my first haircut here, since I had heard horror stories from people about changing hairdressers and had the same person cutting my hair for over 10 years, but we found a Super Cuts and Lindsey did a great job.  We also tried out one of the three local grocery stores. We’re going to try them all and see which one we like best. I am finding those types of things to be unsettling..not knowing which grocery store to go to, or where to get my hair cut, but as I knock each one off my list I am finding it’s much easier than I thought it would be.  I am overdue on a teeth cleaning as well, so calling Aspen Dental soon which Cori recommended to me because they are a national chain, so I will tell you how that went after the appointment. I also started cooking again, something I have kind of gotten away from with all the traveling and actually menu planned and shopped for all next week.  My first couple of attempts; Individual Beef Wellington and Chicken Parmesan were not that great (meat overcooked and undercooked respectively), but Lee appreciated the effort and since he only has 1/2 hour for lunch at the school every day it’s important I get back into the habit.  Plus we are absolutely committed to living within our budget this month.  Originally my intention was to start posting budget numbers last month, but things were so crazy with the moves and unexpected startup costs, I decided to start fresh this month.  I’ll be completely honest, we did not do as well as I would have hoped but we also didn’t completely blow the bank either.  My advice is expect to plan to spend extra that first month, just like you would if you bought a new home or moved into a new apartment.

Saturday we drove down to Fort Meyers to see Jo and Ben.  One of the best things about being here is so many of our friends are close by.  We saw Kelly and Bill and the night we came in (they made us a terrific dinner) and we hadn’t seen Jo and Ben since they left Maine.  Ben took a six month contract with the Fort Meyers hospital which he likes very much and Jo is working on call for 3 different hospice companies.  Plus they really really like their site which sits right on a canal and they have their own little private boat dock which goes to a river which has tons of manatees in it.  (That is utter nonsense. There is tons of water, tons of birds, tons of mangrove trees. There are not tons of manatees. Not even a few pounds of manatees. We saw no manatees. We were there, we were in the river, we looked. No manatees. I think it’s all a big marketing ploy. Just like in New Hampshire with their alleged “moose”. I lived there over 13 years, never saw any “moose”. Don’t believe the lies about the moose, and the manatees. – Lee) After tons of hugs, talking a bit, and eating a quick lunch we set out on their boat.  Ben took us up to the power plant which dumps hot water into the river and is a favorite hanging out spot of the manatees.  (Suuuuure. – Lee) It was a glorious day and although we didn’t see any manatees we did see lots of birds and some very cool mangroves.  We had a terrific time and I am so glad we are close to our good friends again.

Ben and Lee on the boat

Ben and Lee on the boat (You see how Jo and Ben are almost gleeful in their laughter about how we feel for the “manatee” story? – Lee)

Lee and Jo

Lee and Jo

Loved the pelicans just hanging out.

Loved the pelicans just hanging out. (Those aren’t real. They’re sophisticated animatronic pelican statues. – Lee)

 

Lessons Learned

  • Budget extra money for the first month or so…you’ll need it
  • Getting a hair cut in a new place doesn’t have to be traumatic…BUT be prepared to describe exactly how you want it.  Your former hairdresser can write down important information like color, type of cut, length etc for you before you go on the road.

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Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.  Search Amazon.com here